The story of... equality in ECE
This is a massive story to tell, and I know I will not have time to tell it all now... but just some parts of it... In this part I strive to share how I view my role as educator in an ECE setting from the perspective of equality.
I often write about creating equality in the classroom, A play and learning space that is based on democracy, which, for me, means everyone has the equal right to participate, influence and affect the dynamics of the group, the direction of the learning and the energy of the play.
Many of my posts are about creating that kind of space - physical, social, emotional and cognitive. The philosophy with children posts describe my role as facilitator, and the balance of guiding and being open to new direction.
As adults, and as teachers we have the role of teaching and taking care of young children, we are, though, equal as humans...
As teachers/adults we have more knowledge and more experience that has been gained over time... time that the children, with their young years, have yet not been exposed to. This means that the content of our knowledge banks and experience is not equal with the children have less experience and less knowledge.
But the children do have different knowledge than me.. different experiences and different things that they have learned with their families and friends, culture, religions etc
So I remain open as an equal human - a co-learner. Aware of my own power, my knowledge, but also open to the knowledge and competence of the children.
So, as I am learner I am equal as a learner... The child is also a teacher - to their peers and also to me as I learn about them and about the world through their eyes So we are equal as teachers (in value) Our knowledge is different, our responsibility is different, our roles are different. But this difference does not reduce our equality as humans.
I think often the word equal/equality gets misinterpreted as meaning the same in a sort of clone like way rather than valuing our differences and diversity with equal respect..
The children have equal value to me. Not that we are the same. But that their words and opinions are worth listening to, just as my opinions are...
This is why I focus so much on listening. On how I listen to the children and others, but also to support the children to listen to each other and to value the opinions with respect. That we do not have to agree, but that we should listen with the intention to understand rather than the intention to reply.
This is fundamental to Original Learning and being a play-responsive educator. It is not abandoning your role as an adult/teacher to follow the children, or to reduce the power of the adult. It is about being aware of how this power can be used to ensure that everyone in the room is heard and valued by each other. It is about being tuned in to the children to know when your interactions with them empower them and nourish their learning journey, and to avoid interactions that limit them and put obstacles in their path (intentionally or non-intentionally).
Equality comes from creating a space where others feel safe and free to speak their mind, share their thinking and be creative through risk taking (creativity means risk... as we imagine new possibilities we can never be entirely certain that they will work).
So when I sit at a table with children as equals it means that I have been working on my relationship with the children to create trust. The children feel safe enough to share their thinking and not what they believe I want to hear. They feel safe enough to share their ideas without the stress of "being wrong" and being judged, that together we can explore the ideas. They feel safe enough to not to need to prove they are clever, or behave in a certain way to gain approval, but that they are accepted as they are and that diversity allows us to explore and play with ideas from many perspectives.
When I sit at a table with children as equals it does not mean that I think we all know the same amount, or all have the same skills or that we all have the same practical experience. I am extremely aware that I sit there with more power, knowledge and experience, just by being an adult, and also an adult who has trained and worked as an educator for many years. To sit as an equal at the table means for me that my voice does not dominate, but that all voices have an equal opportunity to be heard. That I use my power to support that the children at the table come to the table as equals too, that they too learn to give value to all the voices.
This means helping children that equality and fairness does not mean that we all get the same, but that we all get we need to be able to equally participate, that we all get what we need so that everyone can reach their potential, and not just some.
As a mother of children with special rights... I see that there is seldom genuine equality in the classrooms in schools. That for those children who learn in a different way than te methods being chosen in school do not have the same opportunity to reach their potential because they are forced to work extra hard at "sitting still", "learning by reading, when listening is their way to learn", "learning theory when they learn best hands on" etc - so much energy wasted to behave or learn in a way that makes the learning journey be constantly uphill, or going against the current when their peers are learning with the current, or running across flat meadows... Equality is about providing different resources, different support, so that everyone could learn with the flow. My post about Kefah in Palestine illustrates this... her education was about ensuring that she had the same as all the other students so that it was fair, and not about making it fair for her to achieve her potential.
As an educator there is much I still need to learn to be able to provide equality in the classroom - about abilities, well-being, prejudice and bias etc.
And as I learn I will always strive to create listening environments - so that I can learn. So that the children learn to be open to listening and valuing the opinions of others, so that they can confront bias and prejudice with critical and empathic thinking and be a part of making this planet a better place. Not one that sees equality as us all have the same - but that equality is a celebration of diversity where we are all equally valued and respected.
here are a few more posts to reflect on...
The Bubble Game - a game I play to support listening, explore equality and fairness and work on self regulation
The Story of Participation... a post about democracy in the classroom
The story of Voice ... a post about why this is important to me... that voice is important, but we need to focus on listening for those voices to be heard.
Philosophy with Children ... this post is one of several where I take up how I work philosophically with children. It is about creating equality, but I also have a clear leadership role in scaffolding that. Yes, I take a step back so that it is the children's opinions that are being heard, but I am working hard to ensure that the children include everyone, listen with respect, and are active participants... so I am juggling many balls to ensure that the children have this space to express their opinions... it is not just a time when the children speak freely, but a structured dialogue that scaffolds their thinking, their listening, their relationships, their respect to create a collaborative safe space to explore ideas together.